My husband went to the stores – and when he finally came home he couldn’t talk

A father who suffers from the same debilitating condition as American star Bruce Willis shares his experience living with aphasia

James Rousey suffered a stroke when he was forty-nine years old, and the life-changing attack left him unable to speak.

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James Rousey has been speechless since suffering a stroke in 2019
Bruce Willis has retired from work after his diagnosis

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Bruce Willis has retired from work after his diagnosis

Now, during Aphasia Awareness Month, the 51-year-old and his family want to shine a light on the condition that affects thousands of people each year.

Aphasia can harm a person’s ability to speak, understand, read and write, and it came to public attention earlier this year when Hollywood hitman Willis, 67, revealed he was retiring from acting after he was diagnosed with aphasia.

But James’s wife Joan, 53, says that despite the high-profile case, there is still a lot of confusion about the case.

The RBS worker, from West Calder, West Lothian, said: “Life has changed a lot, and it’s tough. I have to explain to people all the time that James can’t talk, but he can understand you, so talk to him, not me.”

“I feel there is little awareness of aphasia and stroke. It would be very helpful to help people understand more about it.”

James, a former mechanical engineer, was preparing to travel with his wife and son Matthew, 16, in 2019 when he had a stroke.

Joan explained: “James got up as usual and went to the stores. A few hours later, I ran into the police at the door, clutching his wallet, car keys and phone.

“They told me he had an accident, and they thought he had a stroke. Doctors at St. John’s Hospital said it was a severe stroke, and he stayed in the intensive care unit for 24 hours due to brain swelling.

“James had no warning of what was going to happen. He only had a vague memory of starting the engine and then not being able to do anything.”

He spent three months in the hospital before being discharged.

James developed severe aphasia, was unable to communicate with his family and was paralyzed on the right side of his body. Counselor told Joan that James was unlikely to speak again.

Neither of them have heard of the disease before, but about a third of stroke survivors have aphasia, which affects not their intelligence but their ability to communicate.

Although at first feeling overwhelmed by the shocking news, they found solace by joining the weekly online aphasia support group run by the charity Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland (CHSS).

Meeting other stroke survivors with aphasia was a blessing for James, while joining partners and caregivers gave Joan the support and trust she needed.

She added, “The band is very good. James gains confidence from being able to take part in auditions and being part of his peer group.

“He sees others who are all in the same situation as he is but at different levels and stages.

“They all know each other now and have a hunch about what each of them is thinking. It has been a positive experience for both of us.

“Aphasia can be very frightening and isolating,” said Jackie Slater, director of aphasia development at CHSS.

“In a moment people’s lives are turned upside down by the condition, but many people have never heard of aphasia until it affects them or a loved one.

“They are forced to become experts overnight.

“With the help of people like James, who are bravely sharing their stories, we want to make sure more people in Scotland are aware of aphasia.

“Aphasia affects everyone differently, but by understanding what it means for people living with aphasia, we can help improve awareness and ensure that people living with this condition feel more supported in their communities.

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“At Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland we support people with aphasia and their families through communication and individual support groups as we help them maintain connections and improve their quality of life.

“Our support is tailored to each person’s personal needs and goals to help ensure they can live their lives to the fullest.”

– For more information on Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland services visit chss.org.uk

James and Joanna Rousey

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James and Joanna Rousey

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